Sarah Tanburn

 

 

 

December: Dusk

The tide is out. Sandbanks bar our way, the channel too shallow now for us to leave before the water returns. We are safe from any sea-storm anchored here behind the saltmarsh. Glistening mud outlines the little pool where we lie, quiet as a toy boat, the still water around us reflecting our blue hull.

Samphire spreads above the tiny cliff marking the edge of the marsh, the flecks of purple lavender almost shocking among its fleshy grey stems. As the goose flies, we are only five miles from one of the biggest ports in the country but we can hear no engines, smell no fuel. All looks much as it must have done when the Vikings first rowed their longships through the river mouth hunting plunder and fertile land.

Dusk is falling. The clouds are an iridescent slow-motion borealis disturbed by contrails from planes too high to see. November’s spring tides have ended and the waxing crescent-moon hangs in bright reflection against the still-blue sky above the horizon. Silt-laden waters mirror vermilion and crimson, gold and gaudy pink, changing as the planet inches its way towards night. You might lick the surface expecting to taste candy floss.

Bird cries echo across the marshes. We smile at the shrill whip-whit of a rare avocet, nod at the high-pitched bark of curlews and the hammering chirp of a redshank. Swans fly low overhead, wings creaking under their own weight. Honking and chattering, Brent geese thump down to the marsh and graze, jerking their beaks upwards to pull tough grasses from the grip of the mud. A quarrel breaks out and the backwaters echo to wing-beats and splashes when they jump on each other and fight in the shallows. As suddenly as the row blew up, they break apart and feed again.

A single ripple rocks the boat, so gently even the anchor chain does not creak. A fish perhaps, big enough to swirl through the water but small enough to creep through the muddy shallows unseen. Maybe even a seal leaving its daytime wallow along the stream, though we have seen none all day. We settle back against our cushions, snug in layers of winter fleece, sipping scotch to warm us through the evening’s show.

The anchor light at the masthead glows against the upper sky, deeper blue spreading above the plum and amber clouds. Stars blink awake, Venus first and brightest. The water is black now, the line between sea and mud invisible. White blobs mark the throats and tails of the geese, their conversation a mysterious, throbbing purr on the night air. Land is far away, beyond creeks and swatchways marked with withies and the occasional flooded barge dumped there when her time was done. Half a dozen distant house lights shine out, sole evidence of other people. A small breeze stirs the marsh and our ensign rustles once. We chink our glasses and toast the dark.

 

 

Sarah Tanburn has published short stories on line and on paper and is finalising her first novel.  Find some of her work at Ether Books and [wherever] travel magazine. She blogs at sarahtanburn.wordpress.com  and is @workthewind on Twitter.

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